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From Zero To Email Marketing Hero In Just Nine Steps

From Zero To Email Marketing Hero In Just Nine Steps

We’ve written about email marketing already a couple of times before, and by now you should know the importance of email marketing for your organisation. Email is the unsung hero of the marketing world. It is the most important marketing channel you and your organisation should focus on.


Well, let’s look at alternative channels like your Social Media profiles. How many followers do you have on the Facebook of your organisation? And when you post something how many people see that post organically, without you spending advertising budget on it?

Sure there are ways to get better engagement with your audience on Facebook, but in the end having even 10% or 20% of your fans engaged with your content without spending a dime on it, is impossible nowadays.

Facebook, Twitter and all the other they want to limit people to go to your website organically. Because if they do, they are losing money. They want you to pay to play on their network with their rules. And these rules are being changed on a regular basis. Imagine running a business like that, where they modify the rules every week!

There is no better scalable way to start communicating with your customers besides email (okay maybe text messages, with an open rate of almost a 100%). Old school Direct Marketing Mail is too expensive, having an entire sales team to go door to door or doing phone calls all day is too much overhead.

Even getting organic traffic from Google and other search engines is always on the perils of changes in search algorithms.

So email is the safest way to start communicating with your customers, to educate them, to start a dialogue with them. You know exactly how many people are opening the emails, how many are clicking on it and where they are.

Email is still the best choice for any marketers out there. Research done by the Campaign Monitor show that for every $1 a company invests in email marketing; they’ll see a $38 return. If that did not convince you enough, 91% of people use their smartphones for checking email, and with over 2.5 billion people around the world having an email account (compared to 1.86 billion Facebook users). As you can see, if you got something to say to your people who are interested, email is the way to go.

If you’ve already created a list of subscribers, you should start sending out emails to start engaging with them now. But that assumes you’ve got a list, and for many startups or small business having a good list is still a long way to go.

To help improve your chances of success, it is always best to sit down for a little bit and think of a strategy, a marketing plan before you start. With a plan in place, you’ll know who you will be emailing, why you will be emailing them and what you should be emailing your subscribers for you to reach your marketing goals.

In this post, we’ll guide you through a nine-step plan to get you off the ground with a running start.

#1 What is the purpose of your organisation?

As most things in life as well as in your business. Most things start with why. Why do you want to start sending out emails? What is the overall goal of creating an email marketing campaign for your organisation? Starting with S.M.A.R.T. goals is always best. It helps you to determine who your target audience for your email is, but also which types of emails you want to start sending.

Some examples you could have for your companies are:

  • Generating more page views for your latest published articles as part of your Content Marketing strategy
  • As a discount retailer (Groupon or other discount retailers) you want to sell large volumes of your stock. The goal of the email is to drive sales
  • As a startup, you want to develop nurture and inspire your leads. You want to stay on top of your potential customers so that when the moment arrives that they are ready for the sale, you are the first thing in their mind
  • You want to make your customers feel special like they’re part of something unique to help build a loyal following
  • As an NGO you want to raise money for a cause and want people to be aware of it so they can start donating

Only if you know why you are doing something in the first place can you later know what goals to track to see how you can improve your emails?

The problem also with many emails is, is that they’re too generic, and when you’re trying to get noticed among the ever exploding inboxes of your readers, you have to stand out from the crowd, or your email will get ignored. Later on we will focus on great copy and the subject line, but first, we need to stand out above 100s of other emails.

You do that by identifying a particular challenge or problem your readers are experiencing that they want to get over, that your emails can help them solve. You can’t solve all problems with one email; you can’t capture the attention of everyone on your mailing list. And if you try, your email is bound to get ignored by everyone (or close to it).

Using the power of one

Just like with an article you write as part of your content marketing, for each email you write, you MUST use this approach, or the email will fail, almost guaranteed.

It’s simple but incredibly important.

You can dramatically improve your email marketing results even if you follow this one step only: focusing on ONE main challenge, ONE main goal, ONE main why.

To determine your ONE thing, try completing this:

After reading this email, I want people to _____________

You pick ONE task, one area of focus, and your emails will be tremendously more effective. And don’t just believe us on this, David Ogilvy, also known as “The Father of Advertising” found that the most effective advertisements (of which you can sort of view emails as well) all focus on what he called “the Big Idea”. Not the Big Ideas, plural. The single, powerful, big idea.

Or Victor Schwab who write the book “How To Write a Good Advertisement“, in which he studied 100 headlines of some of the best advertisements of all time.

Victor found that of those 100 headlines, 99 focused on just ONE idea. ONE topic, ONE target market, ONE challenge, ONE solution. It’s not about curing your whole body; it’s about curing your migraines. Check out some great examples here in this article called “The Power of One“.

#2 What is your target audience?

The next step is to try to figure out who you want to send your emails too. Although you already defined some proper buyer persona’s around your ideal customers. All of these personas are located in different parts of their buyer’s journey. This too means that various purposes for emails will create different sets of emails for various people. The more focused you make these groups, the easier it is to start engaging with your subscribers.

Let’s look at some more examples:

  • The company wanting to get more page views on their articles knows that their articles are mostly read by busy mothers, in need to be inspired for dinner. So that’s the persona they write their content for in their emails as well
  • The discount retailer’s audience is an 18-25 years old male student, who want to get the most out of life while on a tight budget
  • The startup is working towards a new fitness product release on Kickstarter; their target audience is the healthy, sporty type which can be found in the gym multiple times per week.
  • The NGO is trying to help refugees find a safe place to go to. So it emails people who want to offer their home to help out other people

The better you can define your buyer persona’s and the better you understand the people who you’re writing to, the better emails you will be writing. Email marketing comes into the personal inbox of your readers. Hence it is a very personal and direct way of communicating with your readers. You need to build that relationship even more than on social media or other forms of marketing and that is only possible if you’re on the same page.

After these first two steps you should already be able to map out your goal of each email:

I want this email to speak to ____(target market)____ who ____(desire or challenge)____ and encourage them to ____(specific actionable step)____.

Pro tip: A great way to get more insights to be able to send even more personal and targeted emails is by just simply asking your readers what they want. Asking your readers to reply to the email you had sent and sharing their personal stories and insights with you will give you an enormous wealth of knowledge about topics and information to include in your emails.

#3 Select an Email Service Provider

Now that we decided what the purpose of our emails will be and who our target audience is, it is time to get a bit more technical. Sending emails from your personal Gmail account or your companies Outlook is never a good idea, you want something where you can build a list, where you’re able to create different segments of people. Maybe create educational “drip” email campaigns. There are a lot of different email Email Service Providers (ESP), with Inbound Rocket at the moment of writing we support:

But there are lots of other options like GetResponse, Constant Contact, Revue, etc. Every ESP is supporting most of the same functions, so it all depends on a bit on your personal preference and money able to spend for this.

#4 Start growing your list

Time to start building your list! You may have already noticed that just because you offer a place for people to sign up for your email list is not enough for them to leave their email address and become a part of your tribe.

“Click here to receive my newsletter.” or “Enter your email, and you’ll receive weekly updates.” isn’t going to cut it anymore.

So, what is the best way to help grow your email list?

Remember, people chose to be a part of your email because they wanted that information you are offering them. As Seth Godin would say in his book Permission Marketing:

You offer folks information on a specific topic, to ease a particular pain or reach a goal they’ve had their eye on, and they step forward, raise their hands, and say, “Yes, please! Tell me more.” And in so doing, they step willingly into your world, where it’s then the job of your emails to welcome them, to make them feel at home, and to invite them further into your business (by partaking in your more in-depth products and services).

So offering people an incentive to sign up for your list is easy to start building your list. Your opt-in incentives need to be enticing and valuable, though, and the value needs to be clear even before they start typing in their email address.

Your opt-in links and sign-up boxes need to be obvious, without being pushy or distracting. And you need to incorporate ways for people to sign-up into all of your content marketing and social media strategies.

So what are some good ways that will help grow your email list?

  • Giveaways – a viral competition where people enter to win a certain prize by giving their email address and then giving extra entries for every person who signs up from their referral.
  • Adding viral loops to your opt-in pages – a bit similar like the giveaways only this time on the thank you piece after someone signs-up for your newsletter. The strategy here is to offer an upsell on the page, in exchange for them referring other people who sign-up.
  • Viral pre-launch campaigns – Mailbox did a fantastic job at this a couple of years ago. You left your email address to sign-up for their beta, and you saw a real-time counter how many people were still ahead of you. By sharing the product and referring other people, you could skip ahead in the queue.
  • Content upgrades on your top posts – a content upgrade is something where you deliver some extra value as a way of upselling an individual piece of content. This could be a related whitepaper, or checklist to the article people are reading.
  • Content cliffhangers or gated content – a bit similar to the content upgrade only this time you create a list article with for example “50 ways to XXXX”, but you only show the first 15 items. People can then unlock the remaining items when they enter their email address.
  • Hosting webinars – Hosting an exclusive webinar where people need to sign-up to be able to attend.
  • Offering a discount on check-out – letting people leave their email address at checkout to get an extra discount on the items they are about to buy.
  • Offering an email course – Create a multi-day email course people could follow that is tailored to empowering them to help solve their problems.

Other ways that are great without having a clear incentive:

  • Including a subscriber testimonial alongside your opt-in box.
  • Cross-promote with a complementary company in your niche where you promote each other’s newsletter.
  • Include an opt-in checkbox on your website’s contact form on your “about” page.

Unsubscribing the people who are not interested

This one sounds a bit counter-intuitive. Why would I actively try to encourage people to unsubscribe from my list?

Well it could be that after a while people don’t want to receive your emails anymore, your list of subscribers has been around for some time, people forgot why they subscribed in the first place, and they don’t see the value in them anymore because their priorities might have shifted over time.

If a person doesn’t want your emails anymore, they’ll find ways even if they can’t unsubscribe easily. One way of doing this (and probably the easiest) is by hitting the spam button.

If your spam count gets too high, ESP’s, including MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, will suspend or even terminate your account.

Farewell does not have to mean goodbye, though. Maybe the number of emails you’re sending is just too much, so offering people the option to receive different or fewer emails might be a good thing. Or maybe email just isn’t the thing anymore of your subscribers to offering them various ways to stay in touch on your unsubscribe page might be a thing?

Upworthy has had great success doing just that. Giving their unsubscribers the option to follow them on Twitter or Facebook instead, avoids them losing touch entirely.

Upworthy offering an alternative to email on their unsubscribe page

Upworthy offering an alternative to email on their unsubscribe page

#5 Keep your contacts organised

We already addressed this a bit with the second step in which we talked about defining your target audience. But one of the most commonly overlooked elements of email marketing is list segmentation.

According to a 2012 MarketingSherpa study, only 32% of marketers say segmenting their email database is one of their organisation’s top objectives in the next 12 month. And this, according to us, should be way higher.

Why would you want to segment your emails?

Your buyers aren’t all the same

Most businesses have different types of customers. For a lot of them, there are no one-size-fits-all clients. If you’re an electrician, for example, you might work for the landlord of a big apartment complex or the owner of a single home. Both of them could be your customer, but both of them are entirely different types of customers.

Trying to send emails to them with the same broad messaging isn’t nearly as effective as tailoring that message to ONE specific target with ONE particular problem as discussed in step 2.

Your readers are at different points in the buyer’s journey

Even within ONE particular target group, there can be a difference. Your readers could be at different points in the buyer’s journey. People could have just subscribed to your newsletter because they are looking around, trying to get inspired before they are ready to buy, or they might just be in the need for your services because they just bought a new house and they need to get the new wiring done.

As a result of the above two reasons, if you start to segment your emails, your email reputation will improve, and you will start to achieve better results. Your emails are more engaging, and people are more willing to take action as a consequence of that.

Just look at the number from Lyris Annual Email Optimizer Report:

Results from list segmentation as defined by Lyris' Annual Email Optimiser Report

Results from list segmentation as defined by Lyris’ Annual Email Optimiser Report

As you can see, 39% of marketers who segmented their email lists experienced higher open rates, 28% received lower unsubscribe rates, and 24% experienced better deliverability and greater revenue. So start segmenting those lists!

#6 Develop a content plan

Slowly your first set of subscribers are rolling in. You know why people are subscribing based on the different sets of lead magnet you have online; you know their demographic features. So the next step would be to start to write to your subscribers. However, before you start sending random stuff to your readers and scare them away again, it is a good thing to take the first couple of steps and to start building a content plan.

Things to include in this content plan are the kinds of content you will include, a description of the overall tone of voice, will it be a plain text email, etc.

Design an email template

For the design of your emails, there are lots of different options, and a lot of ESP’s already offer different templates straight out of the box. Still looking for inspiration? We recommend “Really Good Emails”, it is a website where hundreds of thousands of emailers come to get inspired.

A critical question to ask yourself though with designing an email, is, do you want to go all bells and whistles (don’t forget to make it responsive), or do you want to create a more “plain text” email?

HTML versus plain text email, which one is best?

HTML versus plain text email, which one is best?

Although everyone has his or her opinion about this, we always just like to look at facts. According to tests done by Hubspot in 2015, there is something interesting happening. Although people say that they prefer HTML emails when looking at the data they apparently seem to like plain text emails betters. In every single A/B test they did, the simpler designed email won. The emails with fewer HTML elements won with statistical significance.

So you know what type of emails we prefer 😉

Focus on the subject line

Do you know the sole purpose of the first sentence in your copy?

There’s a lot of formulas out there on how to write head- and subject lines and start your copy. But at the end of the day, all it needs to do is to get people to keep reading. Grab people’s attention with the first sentence and set the stage so that they’ll want to keep reading.

So if there is one thing important is to start with the subject line of your email before you start creating your body copy. Subject lines are the gatekeepers of your email: no one gets to read your award-winning email copy if they aren’t even interested in opening your email in the first place.

There is, however, a classic formula that will help you in crafting subject lines guaranteed to get more opens. It is called the 4U Formula for writing powerful headlines:

  1. Useful – The main reason potential new leads or customers are searching on the internet is to find valuable information that helps them to solve their most pressing problems. By providing more value to the other side of the table, your reader will interpret that as you care enough to consider what is really important to them. For example, “Create Professional Client Proposals in Minutes”.
  2. Urgency – Urgency encourages your prospect to act now rather than later. People want their problems fixed right now. For example, “Start making money from home this week.”
  3. Unique – Uniqueness is critical because online you’re always fighting for attention. If your potential readers have seen similar content or similar benefits somewhere else, they won’t bother with clicking through on your content. For example, “EXAMPLE”.
  4. Ultra-specific – If you give your potential audience specifics in your headlines, you prove that you understand them on a deeper level. That you get their struggle, understand their goals, and feel their pains. For example, “EXAMPLE”.

Invest in effective copy

Now that you’ve grabbed your readers interest with your headline it is time to take them down the “slippery slope” as Joseph Sugarman, author of “Advertising Secrets of the Written Word” calls it.

The slippery slope can easily be achieved by using the AIDA Copywriting formula.

AIDA stands for:

  • Attention: Grab their attention
  • Interest: Interest them with interesting facts / uses / stats
  • Desire: Make them come to the conclusion, “I WANT THIS”
  • Action: Tell them exactly how to buy, and what will happen next.

These four words show the natural progression of an encounter with a prospect that would lead to a sale. In the case of email marketing, this is the progression from the time your subscribers see your email to the time they click on the link in your email.

Your copy needs to be so evoking so much interest that people can’t stop reading. One effective way you can do this is by starting with a personal story, give hints about what’s coming later. Maybe ask a question and not (directly) or even completely answer that question. Give people a reason to want to keep reading.

If you can trigger curiosity within your copy, you’ll easily get people to keep reading. Joseph Sugarman always relied heavily on curiosity to keep people reading, and it can be a very powerful tool.

But make sure you’re using curiosity to attract the right kind of customers for your business. Using massive amounts of curiosity will get you plenty of attention, but it won’t do you any good if it doesn’t produce valuable customers.

When producing your copy, always write in the second person as well. Writing in the second persons means using the pronouns “you”, “your”, and “yours”. Writing like this means you orient the copy towards the reader, not yourself.

#7 Set up tracking and send emails

One of the last steps before sending out any email is to establish a proper tracking system. If you’re able to evaluate the effectiveness of each email campaign, it will be a lot easier to maximise your Return On Investment (ROI) and to learn from each email send so you can improve and refine your emails over time.

Most of the ESP’s already offer great ways to track the effectiveness of your campaigns via their dashboards. But you also want to be able to track what people are doing after they clicked the links in the emails. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using what is called UTM tags.

What is a UTM tag?

UTM tags, also called UTM parameters, allow you to see where traffic to your website is coming from and ultimately track the success of your various marketing initiatives including your email campaigns.

UTM codes are simple. They’re just text added at the end of a URL, like this:


As you can see, the above link contains the website address ( as well a bunch of added information after the question mark. This extra information is the UTM tag.

The first parameter is the campaign parameter. It’s set to track all activity from this particular link as being under the “Welcome” campaign.

The other UTM parameters – “medium”, “source” and “content” follow after. All set to track different pieces of information about the campaign.

By filling out the parameter fields with information from your campaigns, you can very easily track all the results you get from a given email and the steps people took after they clicked the link on your website.

If you’ve got a few goals set up in Google Analytics (like purchases, white paper downloads, etc.), you can see specifically what results from a particular email generated.

Most ESP’s allow you to automatically create these tags and add them to the links in your email, if you want a bit more control you can of course always create them manually as well using the Google URL Builder.

What to track?

At a minimum for each campaign you want to be looking into:

  • Deliverability (rate at which your subscribers received your message)
  • Open rate (rate at which your subscribers open/view your message)
  • Click through rate (rate at which your subscribers click on links/calls to action in your message)
  • Conversion rate (rate at which your subscribers become leads/customers after getting to your website from your message)

#8 Set a sending schedule

What good is doing all this work if you’re only going to send one email to your subscribers? Nothing is worse than starting to build a list and not to use it. When people only hear from you after a very long time, the relationship is already a bit broken. People forgot who you are, why they signed up in the first place and even worse they might flag you as spam as a result.

So it is time to fix and create an email schedule. How often will you send out emails? The answer to that question is two-fold, and it depends on how much time and resources you’ve got available within your organisation to create the emails, and the goals you’ve set for your emails.

At a minimum, we would recommend sending out emails once a month to keep on top of mind of your subscribers, but bi-weekly, weekly or even daily could be good, great answers too.

Things to keep in mind for your email schedule are:

  • Daily emails create an extremely strong bond with your readers, but many subscribers might feel a bit overwhelmed by so much email and end up hitting the unsubscribe button quickly as a result. If you’ve got a business though that brings out a lot of interesting content daily, it might be well worth it if you want to develop a loyal tribe of regular readers and frequent visitors to everything that is happening on a daily basis.
  • Weekly emails are regular enough that you keep on top of mind with your readers so that they aren’t surprised to hear from you again. On top of that, they are infrequent enough, so they won’t feel that overwhelmed that fast. Weekly emails are a safe choice for a lot of companies.
  • Monthly emails are the minimum set of contact points you should be having with your readers. Because the emails are less frequent, there is a higher probability that the emails get lots in the already full mailboxes of your subscribers. As a result, you’re less likely to get noticed. They are however a solid choice if you plan to make your emails extremely valuable, for example when you’re including promo codes in them to be used in your shop.

Whatever the schedule is that you decide for your company, stick with it. Being consistent helps to set expectations with your subscribers. And as a result, people are more likely to stick with you.

#9 Test and refine

We’re almost at the end. We’ve given you a lot of information, but in the end, every company and every business are different. What works well for one company might have the reverse effect with another business.

The best results are always going to come down to different sets of combinations for each business and the only way to figure out what works best for you is to test and refine.

Try to find optimal combinations of design, copy, sending schedules, etc. to help grow your business using email marketing. If you set up proper tracking in step seven though this should not be a problem for you.

Some of the main elements that are easy for testing are:

  • Subject lines
  • Style, tone and context of the copy used
  • Font sizes, colours and formatting
  • Calls to actions

Most if not all ESP’s give you the option to run A/B tests on your emails to see what works best. If you want to be a learning and always improving organisation, you should never give up on testing.

When you find out what works, do more of it and start testing different items to see how you can improve even more.

Grow your business with email marketing

Email marketing is still the best and most powerful option you have as a marketer today. Too often companies say that the leads they generate from their website are no good. When you get to know these leads a little bit better, it turns out maybe they were just not ready to purchase yet.

Don’t throw these leads in the garbage bin, though, instead start building those relationships, take advantage of email marketing to nurture them, to educate them and gradually move them through the sales funnel to the moment they are ready to buy from you.

If they are ready to buy or did already buy from you, use email marketing to generate extra revenue, or turn your existing customers into brand advocates. You’ve got the power to have a direct and open dialogue with them, don’t let it go to waste.

We’ve guided you through nine steps to set up email marketing within your organisation. There is no excuse anymore to start implementing them and moving your business to the next level.

Got stuck or want to share some amazing stories of your organisation? Leave them in the comments!

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